BY MARJORIE BOWEN
THE black marble clock pointed slender gold hands at a quarter to one, gave an expectant whir, paused the fraction of a second, then struck delicate chimes that echoed pleasantly in the large quiet room.
Beyond the tall windows, where the dark silk curtains hung carelessly, half looped back, the silent night showed; the chamber was handsome, sombre, and lit only by branched candlesticks placed either side the mantel-shelf; these were reflected in a stately and ghostly fashion in the large mirror, wreathed with dull gold, that rose behind them to the ceiling, which was by Thornhill, indistinguishable now for the shadows. The walls were of crimson and gilt-stamped leather, hung here and there with gloomy portraits; the furniture splendid and heavy. A steady fire burned on the hearth and flickered in the polished front of a Chinese cabinet, which was in use as a desk and scattered with papers. A gentleman sat before it with a pen in his hand. But he was not writing. Reflectively he bit the end of the quill and gazed down at the floor beside him. He wore a light-colored travelling-coat, and on the corner of the chair hung his hat. Presently he rose and, still with the pen in his hand, crossed to the fireplace. He looked at himself in the mirror—not, it seemed, with any intent; absently merely.
The door was opened; he turned expectantly, with the air of one weary of waiting. It was his servant who entered.
"A lady is below who wishes to see your lordship."
The gentleman frowned in a puzzled manner. "A lady—any one you know?"
"I have never seen her before, my lord."
He considered a moment. "And no sign of Peter—no message?"
"He is plaguy slow. She, this lady, does she come from him?"
"I do not think so, my lord."
My lord glanced at the clock and smiled a little. "One of the Jack's spies, perhaps—it's inconvenient and—late. Tell her she had better reconsider her request, Saunders."
"I tried to get her to go before I troubled your lordship," answered the servant, "but she was so earnest, I did not know—"
"You knew," the gentleman interrupted, "that I was not expecting her. I should not be here if Peter hadn't been so tardy, and in that case you would have had to get rid of her—"
"She is so persistent, my lord ..."
His master took a pipe from the mantel-shelf and knocked out the ashes.
"Saunders, you flatter me—is she pretty and young?"
"Both, my lord, and well dressed—she came in her own coach, which waits for her at the gate."
My lord smiled again and raised his fair eyebrows. "Does she know what time it is?"
"I told her."
"And she ...?"
"She said she must see you, my lord, if it was one in the morning or four."
His lordship gave a sideway look at himself in the mirror.
"Bring her up, Saunders."
The servant was leaving.
"And, hark ye, if any message comes, bring it me; and if Peter arrives, keep 'em quiet until I ring the bell."
He had lit his pipe now and was smoking; he stood leaning carelessly against the mantelpiece, with his back half turned to the door; the mellow light of candles and fire showed his handsome, cynical face, and gleamed in the rolled curls of his singularly smooth, fine, light-brown hair; where his roquelaure fell apart the white satin of a ball dress showed, and a sapphire sparkled in the long lace at his throat.
He heard some one enter, and slowly turned. The door closed, and a lady advanced into the room. She was masked. My lord, with an elbow resting by the marble clock and his pipe in his mouth, did not move.
"Ah, Incognita," he said, and stared at her.
She paused by the Chinese cabinet; as she did not answer, he spoke again.
"You unmasked to the servant, madam—"
She interrupted, with a clearer voice and a firmer accent than he had expected. "Because I thought his report on my features might help to obtain an audience of you, sir."
"Well," he smiled, insolently, "let us see if he spoke the truth—"
Instantly she took off the mask and came a little nearer.
She was tall and fair—very fair; her eyes were light gray, shaded darkly; her mouth very sweet; she wore a bronze-colored dress and a light-green silk mantle; she looked at him steadily and fearlessly.
"In the name of God!" he cried, suddenly, after gazing at her a space, "what brought you here?"
There was no answer to that, nor any change in her judicial gaze. He laid down his pipe and offered her, with an almost imperceptible alteration of manner, a chair. She swept into a high-backed Spanish seat with a graceful outspreading of silks.
"Thank you, Lord Bolingbroke," she said, gravely.
He slightly, very slightly, flushed. "Am I to guess, madam, your name and business?"
"I am," she answered, "coming to that."
She sat lightly and proudly, her mask in her right hand, her head high, the long curls of her powdered hair trembling on her bosom. She continued to look intently at my lord, as if this scrutiny had been the object of her coming.
The marble clock struck one. He commented on it. "The hour is unusual, madam."
"The matter on which I come is unusual, sir."
He smiled. "It appears to be to excite my curiosity."
"It is more serious, my lord, than that."
"I do not know your name, Incognita," he reminded her.
Her eyes were defiant. "It would not enlighten you, Lord Bolingbroke."
Her pretty foot, showing beneath her dress, impatiently tapped the carpet. He observed it admiringly, and let her see he did, at which the glittering shoe disappeared. He laughed, but she colored and held her head still higher.
"There is no mystery about me, my lord; I am Dorinda Desborough, sister to Captain Charles Desborough who died at Malplaquet, and daughter of Major Desborough, now in Ireland."
She said this as if she claimed kinship with princes, and her eyes sparkled gloriously.
"A Hanoverian," remarked Lord Bolingbroke, lightly; "then you have not come here for a political reason?"
"A matter of politics," answered Miss Desborough, "could have waited until the morning."
"This is an affair of greater importance, then"—his continued smile was scarcely this side of insolence. "Now I can think of nothing of more consequence than politics, Miss Desborough, unless it be love."
"But I know of many things," she replied, gravely, "and what I come about does not touch love."
He stirred the logs with the toe of his riding-boot, and looked at her the while.
"Why, I hardly flattered myself, madam; in truth, I did not"—he thrust his hands into his pockets and laughed—"and you must give me credit for that, considering the circumstances; it proves, Miss Desborough, that I am not very vain."
She answered, pale and cold: "Every word you say, Lord Bolingbroke, proves you to be what I have always known you were; but I have not come here to—to—"
She faltered, and he smilingly finished the sentence.
"—to discuss my morals? Well, I believe they were ruled out of polite conversation, as known at the boarding-schools, some time ago." His blue eyes were mocking. "It would be interesting to know what you have heard of me."
Her fingers closed tightly over the mask. "I must get to what I came to say," she said, hurriedly.
"Faith, 'tis no occasion for haste," he assured her. "I, at least, am enjoying myself—green becomes you vastly, Miss Desborough."
His bold yet careless glance revealed an admiration he did not consider it worth while to conceal; her bosom heaved.
"I heard one thing about Lord Bolingbroke," she said, "that now I see is false; it was said his fine manners were as certain as—as some other qualities of his."
He seemed amused. "The present occasion is hardly one for ceremony"—he looked at her under his full lids—"do you think so?"
"I am not asking for ceremony, but respect," answered Miss Desborough. "I wish you would mend the tone in which you speak to me, my lord; it is not very creditable."
Lord Bolingbroke did not alter his smiling stare. "I am not very famous for creditable things, madam."
The color came into her face; she moved her hand as if she swept his remark aside. "You were at the Queensbury ball to-night," she said.
"So much I can admit, seeing all London knows it," smiled my lord.
"I, also, was there."
"No need to inform me," he lied, courteously. "I, of course, observed you."
"I think," she said, "you did not, for I was watching you—"
"You are vastly complimentary, Miss Desborough."
"I wanted," she continued, "to speak to you; but"—she averted her eyes angrily and put her hand to her heart; her charming profile against the background of shadows was admired by my lord—"I may tell you at once, sir, that I am Miss Kitty Kynaston's cousin."
Nothing in his easy demeanor betrayed whether the name meant anything to him or no. "A young lady I am acquainted with," he said. "She, also, was at the Queensbury ball—"
Miss Desborough faced him again. "Where is she now?"
Lord Bolingbroke eyed her steadily. "I wonder?" he said, with a slight drawl.
"You know!" His accuser panted a little.
He raised his eyebrows. "I know?" he answered. "Well, I suppose the ball is over now and she has gone home to Westminster; she is in her room; perhaps she is looking at her glove and thinking of its fellow; perhaps she is taking off her shoes and stockings—think of sweet Kitty taking off her shoes and stockings!"
Miss Desborough rose. "Sir," she said, "Miss Kynaston is in this house."
Lord Bolingbroke moved from the hearth. "You flatter me," he answered, looking at her intently, "for, I think, the second time."
"She is here," repeated the lady, "and I have come to take her back."
"That is the reason for your coming?"
"That is my reason; Miss Kynaston must return home—before any one has missed her." As she spoke she crushed her velvet mask together in her hands and drew herself to her full straining height.
"Again I say," smiled the Viscount, "that you flatter me in supposing Miss Kynaston is here. … I wonder what makes you imagine she might be?" he added, carelessly.
"I do not imagine, my lord, I know; my cousin is somewhere in this house."
He returned to the hearth and rested his elbow on the mantelpiece. "Only one lady honors my mansion to-night, madam—yourself."
She moved a step farther into the shadows of the room. "That I do not believe."
The candle-light, full on his alluring face, showed the lazy smile that touched his lips. "I give you my word, Miss Desborough."
Her gray eyes flashed mightily. "The word of Harry St. John, sir, is not a thing to be trusted."
Again my lord slightly, very slightly, flushed. "You allow me no virtues, madam."
She trembled, with anger perhaps.
"Your lordship allows yourself none." She moved toward him again. "Look at me, sir, and dare tell me there is any reason why I should take your word—"
He laughed. "You seem bent on insulting me, Miss Desborough."
"I knew," she answered, "that you would lie to me; I was not so foolish as to think you would tell me the truth."
The satin glittered under the roquelaure as he lifted his shoulders. "The truth, after all, is a tiresome thing."
"Your lordship has often found it so."
He changed from his careless position and faced her. "On my honor, Miss Kynaston is not here." Their eyes met steadily.
"Your honor is as little to me as your word, sir. I came, not to hear your protestations, but to take away my cousin Kitty."
His mouth hardened. "Your cousin Kitty"—he almost imperceptibly imitated her inflection of the words—"would be grateful to you for your care, but I cannot think she would wish to have her name used like this."
"Her name!" cried Miss Desborough. "Her name! It is you to talk of her name, when, unless she comes home tonight, she will not have a shred of reputation left nor be able to hold up her head again! I am here to save her name."
"I repeat, she is not here."
"And I repeat, sir, that I know she is."
"Prove it," said Lord Bolingbroke.
She colored at his tone, but her eyes were dauntless. "You have been paying court to Kitty since the winter."
"Her mother," he said, with the shadow of a sneer, "had no objection to my visits."
Miss Desborough blazed with disdain. "Aunt Kynaston met you at the Dean's house, and you called on her because of Kitty. We are not people in your set, and you had no reason to pursue the acquaintance, except Kitty."
"A pretty reason, though."
"She has no father or brothers, and Mrs. Kynaston is not very worldly—which made it unfair on my cousin."
"And pleasant," he smiled, "for me."
"Kitty, too, is sometimes foolish," continued Miss Desborough, "and so she let you write her notes, and answered them secretly. She told me of this a few days ago when I came to stay with them—"
"And you scolded her—poor Kitty!"
Miss Desborough held on to the back of the chair. "Do not imagine I am telling you Kitty is fond of you. Would it be likely"—her voice was scornful—"with so many younger men adoring her? But she was flattered because you are Lord Bolingbroke."
He looked at her sharply, and laughed. "Do the ladies already consider me old?"
"Kitty is only twenty, my lord. I suppose you do not seem very young to her. Captain Eric Bellamy is twenty-three; she must, I suppose, make comparisons. They are very fond of each other, really, and she is not to spoil it by her folly. I, sir, have resolved on that."
Lord Bolingbroke, thirty-five, and the most popular man in London, hardly knew what to make of this clear verdict—old!—even to twenty; he had never considered that. "Under these circumstances," he said, "it seems you should have sought out the favored gallant, Miss Desborough; it is strange to seek your cousin in the house of a gentleman you say she is so indifferent to."
Miss Desborough flashed over him quite wonderfully brilliant eyes. "I admit," she conceded, "that you are her Majesty's Minister, and that you have a—reputation; also that Kitty is silly and has just quarrelled with Captain Bellamy—"
"About me?" he asked.
"About you, Lord Bolingbroke. Captain Bellamy did not care for her to attend the Queensbury ball because you procured the invitation, and as he became imperious, she, of course, got vastly angered. He demanded of her that she should never see you again."
"What did he say?" queried my lord, lazily.
"He said," flashed Miss Desborough; then she checked herself. "You are a powerful man, sir; it is not fair to Captain Bellamy to repeat what he said."
"You leave me," said the Viscount, "to infer— Well, madam, is that the sole proof you have that I ran away with Miss Kynaston?"
She sank again into the chair. "Indeed no. I saw this morning something was wrong with Kitty—then Aunt Kynaston could not come to the ball with us, being sick, and we went under the protection of a lady who did not look after Kitty—"
Lord Bolingbroke seemed considerably amused. "You condemn me on very oblique evidence."
She clenched her hands in her lap; impatience flushed her cheek. "I mark Kitty; I see her agitated—she loses her glove (I think you have it); in the middle of the ball she disappears; I search for her; I find our friend, who says Kitty has taken leave of her with a tedious headache and gone home in the chariot with a maid; I find our chariot still at the door; I drive home desperately; Aunt Kynaston is in bed, Kitty not there; I pretend to the servant I am going to join her at supper at Queensbury house and have but returned to see if my aunt is well; then I mount the chariot again and come here—this is my evidence, my lord. What do you say to it?"
She paused, breathless and accusing; her cloak had slipped back and showed crushed lace and faded violets on her bosom; Lord Bolingbroke had seldom been gazed at by such fearless eyes.
"This," he answered, "that you had better have sent Captain Bellamy on such an errand."
"You think it strange of me to have come?"
"It puts us both," he smiled, "into an awkward position."
She did not lower her eyes. "Captain Bellamy would not understand," she said; "there was no one but myself could come, because no one but myself must know Kitty was here to-night."
"Perhaps," said Lord Bolingbroke—again he lightly imitated her slight accent—"I do not seem very young to you; you must, I suppose, make comparisons, and you felt tolerably safe in visiting such an ancient beau as myself."
"I was not thinking of you at all," she answered, hastily—"only of Kitty. … As to myself," she smiled, "I come of a different world from my cousin; my father and all my friends would understand why I came here. You, my lord, flung boarding-school miss at me; I was never that. If I had been a man, I should have become a soldier. I have journeyed all over Europe and never been afraid of anything except a coward, and I did not think your lordship that. … Now I have told you everything, give Kitty back to me!" She rose. "Please, Lord Bolingbroke—I have been here long enough."
He looked at her calmly. "Miss Kynaston is not here."
She surveyed him keenly. The effect of the soft light, the satin, and powder was to make him look less than his years; though had she seen him in broad daylight she would probably have set him down as older than he was; his extreme good looks were but an aggravation of his insolence.
"You lie!" she said, hotly. "I know it. …"
"But you cannot prove it," mocked Lord Bolingbroke.
She considered; he was prepared for her ringing for the servants and demanding to be shown over the house, but she did not move from where she stood.
"Kitty must be here; she left the ball before I did, and I have been home since. Lord Bolingbroke, if we are not back by three our absence will be marked."
"Then you had better leave, madam."
"Not without Kitty."
"Since I play chorus—again, she is not here."
"Why," demanded Miss Desborough, "does your lordship wear riding-boots and a roquelaure?"
He bowed to her. "Because before I was diverted by your charming company I had intended leaving for my place in Kent to-night."
"And not alone. …"
"With my servants—"
He laughed. "I am not so far honored."
She moved a quick step, the mellow candle-light full on her fairness; she put her hand to her brow in a bewildered way, and the green silk cloak slipped from her shoulders.
"You have resolved to be cruel, my lord," she said, faintly; then she dropped her hand. "I vow I feel quite faint."
Lord Bolingbroke was picking up her cloak; he paused with it in his hand, interested by the sudden change in her manner. "The avenging angel is discovered to be human," he said—"or does Nemesis suffer from the vapors?"
She turned to face him. "My salts are in the pocket of the mantle. Will you put it round me, my lord?"
The Viscount smiled. As he came up to her she seemed to droop; then, as his eyes were very intent on her face, she snatched something from the pocket of his white coat and sprang to the other end of the room.
"Kitty's glove!" she cried, with no sign of faintness now, but a face set and dauntless.
"Damnation!" said Lord Bolingbroke, and flushed beneath his powder.
"You should, my lord," flashed Miss Desborough, "have put it farther in your pocket; I observed it as you moved."
She unrolled the long mauve silk glove and discovered a crumpled piece of paper.
"That letter, madam," remarked my lord, "is mine."
She read it aloud: "'Yes—I will meet your man at twelve o'clock in the shrubbery—it is best we be not missed together, as you say, but do not be long after me, Harry, or I shall faint in the coach. With haste, with fears, with love, Your distracted Kitty.'"
My lord shrugged his shoulders. "I think you take a liberty, Miss Desborough."
She tore the note into a hundred pieces.
"What now for the word of Harry St. John?" she cried, triumphant.
"You cannot think less of it than you did, madam," he answered, his eyes rather dark and a color in his face; "and what of the obvious inclination of Miss Kynaston?"
He flung her cloak over the chair and clasped his hands behind him, a trick of his on the rare occasions when he was nonplussed or roused.
"What of the mouse in the trap?" she retorted, scornful. "I think he had some inclination for the bait that got him there."
"Maybe, madam, also, I think it was not easy to get him out." He glanced at the clock, that was on the verge of striking the half-hour. "May I remind you that your coachman will wonder at your absence?"
"He?" she laughed. "He was a soldier; he knows why I am here, and will not wonder; I do not fear that my father's men will ever fail me—but Kitty …"
He interrupted her. "You dare a great deal, Miss Desborough; perhaps a little too much. I think you interfere unwarrantably in your cousin's affairs; believe me, she will hardly thank you—"
"Not now, perhaps, but afterward—"
"We, Miss Desborough, are dealing with the present … afterward you and your fire-eating relations may take their revenge on me."
"What is the use of revenge?" she answered; "I am thinking of Kitty."
"So am I," said Lord Bolingbroke.
"She is in this house, and I will not leave it until I find her."
"You Irish!" laughed my lord. "Would you like to call the servants up and question them, bring in the watch and search the house?"
Her fair countenance was contemptuous. "She is going back with me—quietly."
"Madam, believe me, if Miss Kynaston was in the room now she would refuse to accompany you."
"Ah, you think she dotes on you!" cried Miss Desborough.
"I think," he answered, "that you contradict yourself—you vow the lady is here, on the point of eloping with me, and you deny that she holds me in the least regard."
"I never denied that she was foolish as—"
"—as I am wicked?" he finished.
"That was not what I intended to say, my lord."
He looked at her with a smiling curiosity. "Indeed, I have marked your strange absence of reproaches. I cannot accuse you of railing, Miss Desborough."
"One does not reproach an enemy," she said, and she also smiled. "One defeats him—if one can."
"The reservation shows some wit, madam. Does it not also show that you have faint hopes of victory?"
Her hand stole over the violets on her breast. "Lord Bolingbroke," she said, and the gravity, almost tenderness, of eyes and voice swept away his careless mockery as a thing of no meaning, "you will give me a chance—as if it was another man. At heart I am a gentleman; treat me as one to-night." She came a step nearer to him. "It is not worth while, Lord Bolingbroke, it is nothing to you—a great deal to Kitty, to her mother, to Captain Bellamy … to me. I have said once I know you are not a coward—it is only a coward who is too proud to say 'I lose'!"
He gazed at her very earnestly. "I like you, Miss Desborough," he answered. "I think you are the first lady I have complimented with that expression. I like you well enough to wish you had not come here to-night."
The fire was falling into ashes; the marble clock struck a quarter to two.
"But you must see," continued my lord, "that if Miss Kynaston, or any lady, threw herself on my protection, she, Miss Kynaston or any lady, would have a claim on me I could not—forgive me—ignore."
He was smiling gravely with his lips and brilliantly with his eyes; he touched the smouldering embers with his foot and sparks flew up.
"In brief," said Miss Desborough, "you do not choose that a woman should cause. you in any way to alter your designs? Well"—her breath came heavily—"you have the advantage, my lord; it is your house, filled with your creatures—you could lock me up here and ride off with Kitty under my eyes; but you won't do that, my lord!"
"Why not, Miss Desborough?"
She gave a little panting laugh. "I saw you once in Dublin when you were Mr. St. John, and every one was giving you the most grievous character—but I. One man like that is worth ten clods like Harley, I said, and—and if he is but half as fine a gentleman as he looks—'tis enough."
"You dare more than you have yet done," said my lord. "In saying that you make me vain, and a vain man is not to be trusted—"
"Not vain, sir," she flashed, "but proud—sure there isn't a man in England has more to be proud of than you!"
"Now I perceive you try to flatter me," he smiled.
Miss Desborough moved farther away. "I have always admired you, my lord …"
"Ah," said he, quickly, "Dorinda dares—to tell me that?"
She courtesied. "Dorinda dares—to your face, my lord."
Lord Bolingbroke laughed. "Then I might dare—"
"What?" challenged Miss Desborough.
"Perhaps—to kiss Dorinda," he said, not insolently, but with a gay gallantry evoked by her spirit.
She flushed and sparkled an answer.
"Oh, I'll kiss you gladly, Lord Bolingbroke, if you'll give me Kitty."
"You must not tempt me—if Miss Kynaston chooses …"
"Ah," she cried, "if Kitty chooses! Bring her in, my lord, and let her choose!"
There was a second's pause before he answered: "That way you lose."
"No," she said. "I shall win—and if I do not, if Kitty of her own free will does not come home—well, I'll let her go with you, my lord, with never a protest. Do you take the challenge?"
They looked at each other intently.
"By gad!" replied my lord, "I do. And if she elects to go home, I'll give you the despised word of Harry St. John that I'll never molest her again, nor shall tonight's adventure ever be breathed—my people can be discreet."
"And this time I'll take your word!" cried she. "And if I lose—"
"If you lose," said my lord, coming nearer, "you'll give me the kiss I did not take."
"Oh yes!" she answered, elated.
Lord Bolingbroke rang the bell.
"One thing," said Miss Desborough. "I may say what I like to her—without interruption?"
He turned to face her again. "What you like, madam"—his eyes danced amusement—"pictures of weeping mother, distracted lover, entreaties; but"—he glanced at the timepiece—"I can give you no more than ten minutes by the clock—still that, without interruption."
"Very well," said Miss Desborough, "ten minutes' passionate pleading against the splendid smile of Harry St. John!"
My lord flushed despite himself; the servant entered. "There is a lady below—"
"Yes, sir; she arrived some time ago."
"Ask Miss Kynaston to come up here."
Miss Desborough, erect and twisting her handkerchief into knots, stepped back toward the Chinese desk, where the thick shadows almost concealed her. My lord, intolerantly handsome, stood by the chimneypiece with the candle-light glimmering in his brilliant hair.
The door opened violently, and Kitty Kynaston, all lace, white satin, and brown curls, rushed into the sombre room.
"Oh, Harry!" she cried, almost before she had crossed the threshold, "I thought I should die. The wheel came off the coach, and I had to come in a hackney, and so was late, and then you keep me waiting until I am in hysterics!"
She sank into the chair that had served her cousin; her lovely face was near as pale as the pearls round her throat. As she gathered fresh breath, my lord, never moving, spoke: "You are disputed, my dear; this lady desires you to return home with her."
Miss Desborough came a little out of the shadows.
Miss Kynaston shrieked. "Dorinda!"
"Yes," said Miss Desborough—"I, Kitty … and now we had better go home."
Miss Kynaston sprang to her feet, her face sudden scarlet. "I am never going home again; you have no right to interfere, Dorinda—"
My lord glanced at Miss Desborough and very slightly smiled.
"The right of your friend, Kitty," she said, quietly.
Miss Kynaston shook with agitation. "Harry! my lord!—what does this mean? What is Dorinda doing here?"
"Oh, can't you see?" cried that lady, ignoring my lord's delicate triumph. "Well, my dear, I did not think you were quite so foolish."
"This is intolerable," said Kitty; her eyes blazed with excitement, her cheeks burned with shame. "My lord," she added, hysterically, "please take me away."
"I am afraid," answered Lord Bolingbroke, "that you must listen to her for ten minutes." Again he smiled at Miss Desborough.
"You have no right, Dorinda," cried Miss Kynaston, frantically. "I will not endure this—espionage."
"I never spied on you, Kitty."
"Then how could you know?"
"My lord—Harry told me."
The veins showed on Miss Kynaston's soft throat and forehead. "Told you!" she exclaimed.
Miss Desborough stepped nearer to her.
"Will you come home, Kitty?" she asked, earnestly.
Miss Kynaston stamped her foot. "No—I will not."
Both ladies seemed careless of my lord's presence and absorbed in each other, Kitty Kynaston tempestuous, fierce, and overwrought; Miss Desborough pale and controlled.
"You won't come home, Kitty?"
"Not if you was to go on your knees, Dorinda. I know my own affairs. I'll not endure this meddling," was the passionate answer.
"I don't think of going on my knees, my dear," said Miss Desborough, quietly. "This isn't at all an heroical affair. … Of course, if I had thought you were going to behave so foolishly, I should have told you before—"
"That Harry …"
"Harry!" shrieked Miss Kynaston.
"Oh, my dear, Harry to me before ever you had seen him … this isn't the time for delicacy—and you must know the truth."
"I don't understand!" flashed Kitty.
"Oh, la!" cried Miss Desborough, "I did not think you could be so simple—didn't any one advise you Lord Bolingbroke was a great admirer of mine?"
"We met in Dublin—he sent me three notes a day, and I returned them all," said Miss Desborough. "Those you received addressed to 'Chloe' were written for me, but you seemed so pleased with them I hadn't the heart to tell you."
"Dorinda!" gasped Miss Kynaston, "how dare you!"
"Oh, Dorinda dares"—she gave a second's glance at the Viscount—"and surely you didn't think you were the first? Oh, you are very young … why, six months ago my lord was importuning me to run away with him; his admiration was quite the talk of Dublin."
"Harry!" cried Miss Kynaston, "tell me this isn't the truth!"
"My lord," said Miss Desborough, "ten minutes!"
He made a little movement, took his handkerchief out and pressed it to his lips, but did not speak.
"Of course it's the truth, Kitty. Why ever should I tell you a lie? How otherwise should I know you would be here to-night if my lord hadn't told me how you had lost your head?"
"Lost my head!" quivered Kitty.
"I always assured him you were merely playing; he vowed you were quite in love with him," answered Miss Desborough, "and so he suggested an elopement to you—well, just to see. … I was very much to blame, but—I never thought you would go—"
"Stop!" cried Miss Kynaston, desperately. Her cousin continued, piteously. "After you had left the ball, my lord came and gave me this"—she held up the long silk glove—"to show he had won … then I was frightened."
Miss Kynaston stared at the glove. "Oh!" she said.
"Are you convinced?" asked Miss Desborough.
Kitty Kynaston turned distractedly to my lord. "Why don't you speak—why don't you speak, sir? I shall think it true!"
He looked at the clock; it wanted three minutes of the ten during which he had promised not to contradict Miss Desborough. "You must believe her if you will, madam," he answered.
"You must disbelieve if you can!" Miss Desborough snatched something from her bosom and held it out on the palm of her hand before the maddened eyes of Kitty: a miniature of my lord with "To the fairest Chloe" inscribed on the rim. "He gave me this in Dublin," cried Miss Desborough. "It is just like yours, is it not? He must have them by the dozen! Oh, believe me, he cares for me as much as he does for you, and for any other woman as well as either of us!"
The Viscount stepped forward. "By gad! madam—" he began, but her brilliant eyes held him silent.
Miss Kynaston stared at the miniature a second, then whirled into speech. "I have been treated most vilely! I hate you both! How dared you, sir! How dared you! Oh, I wish I was dead!"
He made an impulsive movement toward her.
"Coward! Traitor!" Her lovely face was transformed with passion. "And you, miss, a deceitful hussy—" she burst into tears. "I never really liked either of you— Oh! Oh! … I am ashamed—I ever—looked at you, sir. It was always—against—my own judgment—"
She crushed her handkerchief into her eyes. "I'm going home."
"Yes," said Miss Desborough, rather faintly, "we will both go home."
But Miss Kynaston, darting her a fierce look of weeping indignation, sped past and dashed out of the room, letting the door bang behind her.
Her cousin caught hold of the chair back. "Nine minutes, my lord," she cried, gasping a little, "and wilful Kitty saved!"
"By Heaven!" said Lord Bolingbroke, "the ingenuity of that move, madam, deserved success—you are a splendid diplomat."
"I am a woman, understanding a woman," she answered, moving in an exhausted fashion toward the door. "Now I must go and make it right with Kitty."
My lord came after her. "I kept my promise," he said, "did I not? Faith, I let myself be damned without a word of protest."
Miss Desborough smiled. "I have to thank you for that. You must forgive me, my lord," she blushed, "in the—matter of—Dublin."
"It would have been the truth had I been fortunate enough to meet you there."
She caught hold of the door-handle and did not look at him. "Kitty is in hysterics in the hall; I must get her home—you have promised silence. Well, at last, good night, my lord …"
"One word, one moment." He was ardently masterful. "How did you obtain the picture?"
It was still in her hand; she held it out to him. "I found it on Kitty's table when I looked in her room. I suppose she had forgotten it in her agitation. Take it back, sir."
He hesitated, but her raised eyes were very steady. "Please take it, Lord Bolingbroke."
He took, instead, her hand. "Dorinda," he said—"Dorinda dares not keep it?"
She snatched away her hand, and the miniature fell on the floor between them. "Dorinda dares her own heart to-night," she cried, wildly, "and has dared it far enough! Good night, my lord!"
She opened the door and escaped. He heard her silks on the stairs, and her quick sobbing breaths as she struggled to compose herself.
After a while he closed the door and went to the window. By the aid of the lamp at his gates he saw two ladies mount a chariot, one sobbing on the shoulder of the other.
The marble clock struck a quarter past two. Lord Bolingbroke set his teeth, and in his heart cursed a certain lean and shrewish lady who was his Viscountess.